Back to School

Students, Parents, Teachers Bracing for a Return to Face-to-Face Learning

Watson-HarrisFor months, the issue of reopening schools was very much a partisan one. As cases of coronavirus have roller coastered up, then down, then to a holiday surge, and now back down again, the tide has started to turn in the debate over face-to-face learning. No longer is it a red vs. blue issue; President Biden has endorsed a safe return to class, while the CDC and leading scientists has been advocating for it, as well. The majority of metro Atlanta school districts have moved to hybrid learning, giving parents the option to keep their students home or send them to school. 

DeKalb County was not one of those school districts. That is until February 23. That was the date when Superintendent Cheryl Watson-Harris let the community know that the District was ready to resume in-person learning. Shuttered since March of last year, many students will head back to class on March 15, right around one year to the day that they last found themselves in school.

“While the return to normalcy is an answer to the prayers of many students and parents, questions remain for many in the community about preparations for a return to class and just how safe in-person learning is going to be.”

At the Board of Education meeting on February 8, Watson-Harris addressed board members, discussing a wealth of issues related to the topic, including what she called “myths” being perpetrated by some who are against a return to face-to-face learning. One such myth was the idea that “hundreds of teachers” are quitting rather than return to the classroom during a pandemic. Watson-Harris said that’s simply not true. She stated that, since teachers returned to school buildings during the first week of February, only 17 certified staff members had resigned. That amounts to a fraction of one percent of the district’s more than 7,000 educators. 

She went on to discuss the distribution of personal protective equipment (PPE), stating another myth is that schools don’t have it. Watson-Harris assured the Board that she and her regional superintendents personally oversaw the delivery of PPE to each of the district’s schools. She further stated that each school has been provided a two-month supply of sanitation and cleaning supplies, including a four-week buffer of supplies in the event there was a disruption to the supply chain.

Watson-Harris2Another of the myths she tackled was the notion that there is insufficient heat in school buildings for students and teachers. Watson-Harris told the Board that heat has been turned on in all DeKalb County schools. She admitted that some buildings are not heating evenly, in which cases the district has purchased and supplied safe space heaters to keep classrooms warm.

“The CDC’s five mitigation strategies and other strategies will lower the risk of transmission of COVID-19 in schools,” Watson-Harris told the Board. “I share this as a reminder of the process, a very thoughtful transparent process, the school district implemented in terms of communication, in terms of a commitment to always be guided by the recommendations coming from the CDC, and to apply that to a timeline. We have not changed course, [no] bait and switch with metrics. We have been consistent.”

Watson-Harris said that she will continue to rely on the best advice and guidance of the CDC. While that guidance has changed over the course of the past few months, she said that science will dictate when students go back to class. She also reiterated her promise to parents that they would be given a two-weeks heads up before students are able to report back.

At this point, students will be headed back to class in two waves, starting on March 9 and March 15. According to Watson-Harris, DeKalb County Schools and their staff will be ready to ensure that students and teachers remain safe when they walk through those doors.


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